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Influential guitarist and vocalist Lita Ford recounts her four decades in music

Tuesday 10th, November 2015 / 14:43
By Breanna Whipple
The Queen of Metal is coming to Calgary!

The Queen of Metal is coming to Calgary!
Photo: Gene Kirkland

CALGARY — It is not uncommon for musicians and fans alike to walk the paths through musical history and praise those who paved the way for them. You can call it heavy metal, you can call it rock and roll, but one thing cannot be denied in this specific universe of sound – a lot is to be owed to Lita Ford. With an impressive career beginning with the ground-breaking all-female rock group, The Runaways, extending to a pulsating solo discography, Lita Ford’s still lively career deserves to be put on a pedestal.

Undeniably an inspiration to nearly every female musician and a whole lot of male musicians to this date, Lita speaks of the moment she felt that same spark.

“My cousin, Paul, he was a little bit older than I am… and he took me to my first rock concert. He was 18, I was 13, and it was Black Sabbath at the Long Beach Arena in California and uh, it was 1972 I believe, and it was unbelievable, it was the most incredible thing I had ever seen in my life was that concert and I wanted to do what they were doing!”

She continues, “It was like I walked into my future. I saw my future when I saw that band onstage. It’s bizarre because I ended up having a top 10 hit single with Ozzy Osbourne and being engaged to Tony Iommi for two years. It really was my future, you know? That was the moment and I never forgot that feeling.”

She adds encouragingly, “You really can see your future, you know if you have an inkling of what you think you might do or feel or see or feel in your heart, it’s real. People need to follow it.”

Lita, who had already been playing guitar for two years when she first saw Black Sabbath, was once a young girl who would spin her favourite records over and over to learn every aspect of the song. Being devoted to bands like Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and her personal favourite, Deep Purple, heavy metal was her calling right from the beginning before even auditioning for explosive rock band The Runaways, who released four albums in two years then called it quits when Lita was only 21. The band was also a stepping-stone for the hugely influential Joan Jett and split over Jett and Ford’s diverging musical interests (among several issues), as Ford favoured the hard music while Jett preferred the Ramones style punk.

So Ford went solo. Speaking of her first album, Lita says, “I didn’t know what Out For Blood (1983) was going to turn out like. That was just something that was just slowly pieced together. The hair cut, you know, a new look… Different clothes, a new band… And I had to make sure that I was the only guitar player in the band because people were saying ‘that’s not her playing guitar! It’s him!’ You know, so I could not have a ‘him’ in the band. I had to be the only guitar player, so if you look at the Out For Blood album, it’s a three-piece band. Nobody could say, ‘she’s not playing guitar, it’s him!,’ and they would.”

Misogyny is something the guitarist continues facing today.

“You know, I still get criticized because I’m female. I still get the one asshole in every bunch,” Lita says.

“You know, and it’s like ‘dude, I’ve been doing this longer than you’ve been alive,’ most likely. You know, and I would be more than happy to duel it out with you, face to face, you know?”

Lita’s guitar style has always reflected the simplistic heaviness of bands like Rainbow and Black Sabbath, with accentuating and well-executed solos alongside a strong, anthem-like chorus. Coined the Queen of Metal in her very early days, her discography proves the title as her guitar tone is the epitome of hard-hitting ’80s hair metal. Like all good hair metal, it also ruffled some feathers. Case in point: the initial artwork for her debut Out for Blood was banned when it featured the guitarist and vocalist holding a bleeding, gory guitar. It was replaced with Ford holding her guitar over a purple background.

“Honestly, I want to say that if it would have been a guy holding that guitar, a dude, they might not have banned it. And then they replaced the picture with another picture where I’m not wearing any pants, so that’s okay?”

She adds, “I just never understood the concept behind some people’s thinking.”

Gendered criticism is unwarranted, given Lita’s uncanny ability to compose memorable solos and recreate complex pieces with stride. Such was the case when she covered Alice Cooper’s “Only Women Bleed” on her 1990 album Stiletto that featured the minor hit “Hungry.” Dick Wagner, a favourite of Lita’s, was the guitarist who wrote the stirring original.

“The guitar parts on that song were a real challenge because they’re so intricate and there are so many different parts that I wanted to take on that challenge.”

Ford released two more solo albums before taking an extended hiatus that saw her re-emerge in 2009 with Wicked Wonderland and 2012’s Living Like A Runaway. At current day, she’s keeping busy with touring and doing cancer benefit shows, Lita has also been working on a memoir set to be released in the spring of 2016.

“The memoir has been a challenge beyond anything I have ever done in my entire fucking life,” Lita says of her latest project.

“My co-writers were having trouble wrapping their heads around me trying to describe to them what it is like being a female in the music industry, because I’m pretty much one of a kind, you know what I mean? So trying to find a writer to write stuff, it was difficult to gel, to capture my voice as a writer. They weren’t doing it, they weren’t getting it, and I said, ‘I’m not going to allow this to be released. It is either to be done right, or not at all.’ So, it has been a little bit of a fight. I’ve had to jump some hurdles and it has taken some time.”

She adds, laughing, “Now I’ve got this great book… I can see the end!”

She describes the book as “kind of a flip side” to her latest release of the same name, Living Like A Runaway, an album full of raw emotional intensity and anger. When asked about the second track, a metal oriented doozy with an anthem chorus and dark overtones dubbed “Hate,” Lita says, “It seems like serial killers end up being famous, you know, they become famous for what they do, it’s disgusting. Like Charles Manson, they put him on the cover of Rolling Stone not that long ago.”

She continues, “Hate” is about “people getting shot in schools and theatres and college campuses… Also, my ex-husband [Nitro vocalist Jim Gillette] is not a serial killer but pretty damn close to one, and when I divorced him I had him in mind a lot when I wrote that song, although it is not necessarily about him.”

She’s now working on the follow-up to the 2012 release, bolstered by renewed confidence in her future work. Despite being discouraged with writing her book, she pushed through and encourages fans to continue believing in their own work too.

“I got discouraged and walked away from it for awhile and sometimes that’s what you got to do,” she says.
Lita concludes optimistically “And it’s okay! You’ve got a gift from God, use it!”

Lita Ford performs in Calgary on November 14th at the Deerfoot Inn & Casino.

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